Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

A genre-defying novel that combines elements of science fiction and gas lamp fantasy to create a world filled with auras, dreamscapes, humans with supernatural abilities and a whole realm of otherworldly creatures. 

Disclaimer: This review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon  (Bloomsbury)

I’ve been reading and reviewing books for a good number of years now.

In this time, I’ve come across books that have had me a) shaking my fists (for wasting my time), b) being stricken with grief (at the sheer beauty and tragedy of it all) and c), marvelling in wonder (while losing myself in a world filled with sheer phantasmagorical splendour).

I’ve found the words to express how deeply I loved the book, and I’ve been able to give constructive views on why certain books just didn’t work for me.

What I’ve never found, until now, is a book that is so good, it practically renders my vocabulary null and void.

The Bone Season is a highly impressive debut novel that features a feisty, strong and take-no-crap-from-anyone kind of heroine that will have you cheering her on all the way, not least because of her ability to jump between dreamscapes, but because of her fighting spirit and her will to survive even in the most inhospitable conditions possible.

And to think that the author’s only 22 years old.

Now, generally speaking, the age of the author is of very little consequence, but when you read and consider the concept and elaborately crafted world within this book, you’ll be left feeling as if you’ve achieved nothing in comparison to what Samantha Shannon’s managed to put down on paper.

Her novel is that incredible.

The publishers no doubt feel the same way, as The Bone Season is touted as the first book in a seven book series.

When it comes to this novel, let me start off by giving you some advice: if you’re the kind of reader who likes to read more than one book at a time (which I am by the way), I would highly suggest that you make an exception for this book.

It's not just because I think the book is worth getting special attention, but also because the concept makes for a pretty convoluted read.

And I mean that in the best way possible.

The multidimensional world-building, the heterogeneous characters, the caste systems, the various types of clairvoyants described and how the hierarchy of how the political structure within this dystopian society works, require a good portion of your attention. 

Not to mention the lingo that takes some time getting use to.

Oh, and speaking of jargon, If you do find yourself getting confused by some of the terminology being used, check out the glossary of terms at the back. While I could certainly follow the story and loved it for what I experienced from it, the explanations at the back is something that I definitely think will only enhance your reading experience.

So, just what exactly is The Bone Season about?

Combining paranormal and science fiction components, the book is a miasma of wondrous and unsettling imagery, beautiful prose and atmospheric settings. In fact, this book has somewhat of a gas lamp fantasy feel to it, reminding me of a world that’s both futuristic and gothic.

The year is 2059 and the place is Scion London.

19-year old Paige Mahoney is one of the talented unnaturals working in the criminal underworld of SciLo. Employed by a man named Jaxon Hall, Paige earns her keep by scouting the ether, and breaking into other people’s minds to gather any form of information.

Basically what she’s able to do is walk jump from one dreamscape (her own) into another’s.

Scion London’s underground is filled with people like her – unnaturals all gifted with various types and levels of clairvoyancy - with Paige being a dreamwalker, one of the rarest types of voyants and amongst those considered in the highest orders.

Because the Scion government controls all of London, they consider people like Paige dangerous to society. Her existence alone means that a warrant is out for her capture.

What Paige doesn't realise yet is that the repressive society she and her fellow team mates try to survive in, may be part of something far bigger than she could have imagined.

When she's abducted and taken to a city shrouded in secrecy, Paige encounters the Rephaite, an otherworldly race that force and employ clairvoyants into servitude for their own purposes.

Assigned to Warden, one of the highest ranking Rephaites, Paige is forced under his tutelage, and subjected to rigorous training in order to serve the Rephaite's blood-sovereign, Nashira.

What she doesn't know, is that the man whom she considers to be her enemy, has his own motives and that things on the surface, are once again, not all that they seem.

The Bone Season is, without a doubt, one of the best books I've read this year. 

With its intricate and ornate setup, the book is a unique foray into a world that's filled with wondering (and not always benevolent) ghosts and diverse forms of extrasensory perception skills.

What is particularly impressive is how strongly developed the cast of characters are.

Paige is the kind of heroine that could give Katniss Everdeen a run for her money. Bold, fierce and strong, her will of iron and stubbornness has ensured that she has both the wits and the street smarts to survive in whatever circumstances she finds herself in.

Her ability to access and walk through various dreamscapes, also ensures that she has an additional advantage in her fight for her freedom. It's interesting to note that even though she's part of a rat pack, so to speak, she's as bound to a system in SciLo's underground as she is to the Rephaite she's forced to serve.

Ironically enough, it's the latter that brings about the epiphany. What I also loved about her is that despite being imprisoned by another race, her compassionate nature still shines through for her fellow people - be they clairvoyants or amaurotic (non-clairvoyants).

Her interactions with the supporting cast of characters gives this novel an additional packing punch and will serve to heighten your curiosity about the different types of clairvoyants in the novel.

I was certainly intrigued by the different types found and have to confess that up until now, I had no idea that there were so many levels and kinds of voyants found. 

I'd go into some detail, but that would ruin the discovery for you. Suffice to say that the way Paige uses her dreamwalking ability, is definitely one of the best parts of this novel.

You'll be pretty amazed by some of the detail that Samantha goes into;  the beautiful descriptions of the dreamscapes, ether and ghostly activity being an absolute favourite of mine. 

On top of this, I was also kept on my toes by the interaction between Warden and Paige.

Understandably Paige feels an enormous amount of antipathy and enmity towards Warden (a secretive and not always easy to decipher character) , but as the book progresses, it becomes clear that although Warden's actions still remain a mystery for the most part, she starts seeing that there's something there, in terms of his motives, that might be worth looking at a second time.

Believe it or not, despite the hostility (mainly from Paige's side), there's an underlying chemistry between them that I couldn't help but pick up on. The end of the book certainly hints at something more, but where it will all lead, is something only the forthcoming books will be able to reveal.

Vastly imaginative, The Bone Season is a book filled with a strong cast of characters, a supernatural world that defies convention and a race of intelligent beings that make formidable allies or enemies - depending on which side you choose. The female villain in this story will especially send chills down your spine.

All in all, it's an impressive debut novel by a brilliant new voice that will leave you wanting even more. I can't wait for the next book to come out.

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